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2011 Draft Prep: Auction strategies

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Listen to our latest Fantasy Baseball Podcast!

These strategies apply specifically to auction leagues. For Rotisserie strategies or Head-to-Head strategies, check out the guides specific to those formats.

Fantasy owner -- it's the term we use to describe the people who play this game.

Not Fantasy manager. Not Fantasy executive or president. Fantasy owner.

You're the big boss, the one calling the shots, the guy who stops at nothing to get what he wants.

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So why would you settle for a draft?

That's not what owning is all about. That's a restriction on your power. It's too safe. It's too orderly. With everyone taking turns selecting players of consistently descending value, the league ends up with a relatively even distribution of talent.

Talk about vanilla. How do you distinguish yourself? How do you build that dream lineup of Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Mauer that would most fit your interpretation of "Fantasy Baseball?" You can't.

That's why you need an auction.

Maybe you've never thought about doing one, or maybe you've been too intimidated by the process. After all, with the orderliness of a draft comes security. When in doubt, take the best player, and you'll probably end up OK. The freedom to allocate your resources differently from everyone else opens the door for you to mess it up worse than everyone else, which is why some aspiring owners continue to swerve the responsibility.

But if you do it better than everyone else, you'll build a team more dominant than any you could have drafted -- one that will put you in the driver's seat from the first week of the season. You just need to know what you're doing.

For that, you've come to the right place. In this guide, you'll find the tips and strategies you need to own auction day instead of shrinking from it. With a little confidence and a little faith in the process, you'll be throwing your dollars around like any good owner should.

Real-world economics don't apply

Let's get one idea out of your head right away. You know that message your parents have preached since they gave you your first coin to drop in a piggy bank and said "a penny saved is a penny earned" -- that one about value, sales, coupons, IRAs, 401ks and basically everything you need to know to be a responsible consumer? That doesn't apply here. That was for the real world, where stores constantly restock their shelves and manufacturers work tirelessly to make products better, cheaper and more efficient.

God bless America.

Most people who grew up in this land of luxury, where waiting for the best deal is not only possible, but encouraged, are completely unfamiliar with the economic climate of a Fantasy Baseball auction. It's supply and demand on the apocalyptic level.

Every position has a finite supply. Once it's gone, it's gone for good, no matter how much money you have left to spend on it. If you get caught hunting for bargains, the entire procession of elite talent -- the kind that sets you apart in standard 10- or 12-team mixed leagues -- will pass you by.

Whatever bargains you hope to find there, you won't. Enough people understand the value of elite talent that they'll spend whatever they need to spend on it, leaving you with the Fantasy equivalent of table scraps. True, you could argue a roster full of $10-15 players is deeper than one mixed with high-end and low-end guys, but only if you assume those low-end guys will actually perform like low-end guys. Most leagues have no shortage of sleepers, so as long as you target the right low-end guys, you'll end up just as deep as someone who distributed his dollars more evenly -- only you'll also have the high-end talent to separate yourself in the standings. A $2 player can become a $15 player easier than a $15 player can become a $40 player.

Keep in mind you have a $260 budget. That's plenty big enough to accommodate two or three $40-plus players. So take advantage of it. Treat it like Brewster's Millions and do the one thing your parents said never to do: spend. For the love of Pete, spend. Every player is one of a kind. Every player meets a need that no other player could. If you think you might need that player, take a stab at him, because once the auctioneer says "sold!" you'll never have another chance.

I realize the distinction from real-world economics may seem obvious to some. Nobody operates under the delusion they can use their remaining Fantasy dollars to buy a Fantasy pizza. But when a Fantasy owner gets scared away by escalating price tags that don't match up to some list of imaginary auction values he printed out, I feel like he's missed the point.

A good buy is one that gives you something you want without costing you anything you need. Nobody can put a price tag on that.

A plan is only as good as your ability to change it

Make no mistake: You want to have a plan going into your auction. You want it to be clear. You want it to be focused. You want to know exactly how much you have to devote to each position and what the alternatives are if you fall short. Otherwise, you'll never know when to back down on the bidding, leaving you with either too many needs or too much money.

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But at the same time, you don't want to hold so stubbornly to a plan that you can't adapt to the bidding behavior of your opponents and take advantage of whatever market inefficiencies result.

No two auctions are the same. Each takes on its own personality that, if identified early enough, can result in more than a few clutch purchases.

If everyone shies away from the elite players, devoting less than $40 to them in anticipation of a bidding war for the middle- and low-dollar sleepers, those middle- and low-dollar sleepers will end up going for too much because of all the money still floating around. Hey, people have to devote it to something. In such a scenario, the studs are actually the value picks, as backward as that sounds, so you'll want to shell out for a couple more than you had originally planned. Otherwise, you'll find yourself paying $31 for Kendry Morales when you could have had Mark Teixeira for $34.

On the other hand, if everyone goes all out for the elite players (as I've advised you to do), spending close to $50 on them, nobody will have enough money left for the second-tier players -- the ones just a sneeze away from reaching elite status -- allowing them to go off the board for a disproportionately low amount. In that scenario, you'll want to limit yourself to one or two studs and stock up on as many semi-studs as you can. Let's face it: If you could get both Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton for the same price as Carl Crawford, you would.

Of course, those are probably the most extreme examples. Your auction could have any number of nuances that you'll have to sniff out for yourself. So here's what you do:

Make a budget. List every position you need to fill -- 23 of them in standard Rotisserie leagues -- and list how much you intend to spend on each. If you want to target an elite shortstop like Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki, budget $45 for that position. Or better yet, $50. If it's important to you, it's worth the money, remember.

Keep fidgeting with the numbers until they add up to $260 -- you want a plan that's actually doable, after all -- and use that list to keep track of your spending during the auction. If you spend more than you budgeted at a position, subtract those dollars from some other position. If you spend less, add them instead. If Tulowitzki costs you only $38, you'll have $12 more to spend on your first baseman.

You'll also have a good idea what your opponents think of elite players, so when your nomination comes up, you can test the ground elsewhere. Nominate someone intriguing but relatively low-end like Craig Kimbrel and see how your opponents respond. If they trip over themselves for him, pushing his price tag up to $10, you'll want to keep throwing low-end guys out there, knowing your opponents will spend their money on whatever they see at this early stage of the game. But if they let him slide through to you for the initial $1 bid, you'll want to nominate your favorite sleepers right away, knowing everyone else is too focused on the studs to raise the price tag on you.

Rest assured, it won't last forever. Once the studs are gone and those sleepers become the focus of the player pool rather than mere distractions, they'll be everybody's favorites because ...

Everybody thinks like you do

It's a fact of life in the auction world.

You can have a plan. You can have a budget. You can know the exact stud you want and that the only thing stopping you from getting him is your own fear of spending.

But when you have the freedom to choose, so does every one of your opponents. And the people who know what they're doing have a way of choosing the exact same things.

Let's say you're determined to purchase one of the elite third basemen. The drop-off after Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmermann, Alex Rodriguez and Jose Bautista is steep, so you've prioritized the position on your budget, devoting a significant number of dollars to it -- a fine strategy, no doubt.

But the execution can make all the difference. What if Longoria, Rodriguez and Bautista -- and let's throw in Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis for good measure -- all go off the board for a couple dollars more than you expect, and you let them all go, holding out for that perfect deal? What if Zimmerman comes up next and the bidding gets up to $35 when you budgeted only $32 for third base? What would your natural reaction be?

"Well, I've already passed on all those other third basemen because they went for too much. I might as well wait and see if I can get Wright for a bargain. I just have to make sure I actually get him. Yup, no holding back then. An elite third baseman was the main thing I wanted, so I have to get him. I have to."

Stop. You've just given your budget the kiss of death. You've put yourself in a do-or-die scenario, forced to purchase Wright and only Wright to meet your one pre-auction goal. Only when he finally goes up for auction do you realize the error of your ways. Everybody held out for a better deal at third base, and now that Wright is the last of the remaining elite options, nobody wants to back down. The bidding gets up to $45, which will either wreck your budget or force you to find some other way to spend all that money you saved ... after who knows how many other elite players have already gone off the board.

If you had it to do all over again, wouldn't you just buy Zimmerman for $36?

Granted, hindsight is 20-20, and you never know how an auction will unfold. But the pattern of behavior is more predictable than you think. It becomes especially critical as you approach the end of a tier at a particular position, which is why you shouldn't treat your own nominations lightly. Even though logic might tell you to nominate players you don't want, leaving your opponents with less money to compete for the players you do want, the opposite approach is sometimes better.

If you have your heart set on Chris Perez but he's the last of the full-fledged closers because nobody, including yourself, bothered to nominate him, he'll go for far too much once he finally does go up for auction. None of your opponents will want to miss out on their last opportunity to get assured saves. If you had just nominated him yourself a couple rounds earlier instead of throwing Huston Street and Brad Lidge out there, you wouldn't have had to contend with so many people for him. Sometimes the players you don't want can do the most good just by remaining available.

Because in the end, everybody thinks like you do. It's not pessimism; it's fact. The same applies for sleepers. In drafts, everybody knows to wait until a certain round to draft them. But in auctions, with the freedom of choice, everybody wants his favorite sleepers and saves money for them, which means when they finally go up for auction, they inevitably go for too much.

Which is yet another reason why you're better off spending early, building a stable nucleus of stable players instead of banking on the same players you would in the middle and late rounds of drafts.

The importance of controlling the endgame

But hey, you want some sleepers. If you have to fill out your roster with $1 scrubs, you'll have a team completely reliant on its big-dollar players and whatever misfortunes come their way.

Fear not. You'll get your sleepers if you adequately prepare for the endgame. But instead of targeting specific sleepers that somebody else is likely to target as well, you have to recognize the sheer volume of sleepers available in a standard 12-team mixed league and take whichever are most affordable.

Eventually, every bidder will reach a point when he can only afford $1 players, meaning he can only win the players he nominates himself. Worse yet, if the other owners bid on a player he nominates, he's immediately out of the running, forced to sit through another round of nominations before he can take a shot at someone else. In other words, he doesn't have a chance of winning anyone good because if he nominates someone good, he's sure to get outbid.

You want to be the last bidder to reach that point, enabling you to swoop in and steal all the overlooked sleepers, whoever they may be, for $2.

How? At some point during your early spending spree, you'll have to recognize the time to stop, realize you've done all the damage you can responsibly do, and sit on whatever little pile of money you have left. And it should only be a little pile, maybe twice as many dollars as you have roster spots to fill.

Now, the real fun begins. For the rest of the auction, you have two goals: to pounce on any potential bargains and to eliminate your opponents from doing so by draining their money.

Get on the edge of your seat and prepare yourself to react quickly because as soon as somebody nominates a high-upside player who can realistically go for $2, you want to be the one who bids $2. If you have to bid $3 because someone else beats you to $2, it's not worth it. Every dollar is critical at this stage of the game. Plenty of other fish in the sea.

When your turn comes to nominate a player, don't nominate your favorite sleeper. That's what the $2 bids are for. You'd hate to have to go to $3 on someone you could have gotten for $2. Instead, nominate a player you could potentially get for $1 and wouldn't mind getting for $1, but wouldn't mind losing either. Mike Pelfrey is a perfect example. His low strikeout rate makes him not particularly exciting, but he'd be a worthwhile member of your pitching staff. If other people bid on him, great -- you've drained their money. If not, you've managed to get a $2 sleeper for $1.

Obviously, you can cheat a little along the way if, let's say, a $4 bid would secure the best remaining player, but you don't want to handcuff yourself. You don't want to have six empty roster spots and no flexibility to jump in when somebody else nominates a player you want.

Because that flexibility will allow you to win the endgame and get the most out of every last dollar. If you stick to the plan, you'll be the last one with more than $1 remaining, leaving you with the pick of the litter as far as overlooked sleepers go. It's a great feeling. Getting there is kind of a chore, introducing a level of stress that might just convince you to stick with your safe, cozy draft, but you're only limiting your potential that way.

With an auction, you can decide exactly how to distribute your resources. You can build your dream team. It's about controlling your own destiny, and isn't that why we play Fantasy in the first place?

So be confident, Fantasy owner. You have the clear strategy you need to stay on course on Auction day.

Now, own it.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can e-mail us your Fantasy Baseball questions to DMFantasyBaseball@cbs.com . Be sure to put Auction Strategies in the subject field. Please include your full name, hometown and state.

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